Re-define your Curriculum Emphasis – Focus on learning and deepening understanding

The current emphasis on how the curriculum is planned and delivered should be a welcome opportunity for all senior leaders in schools to focus on ensuring their curriculum is all about learning and deepening understanding across a range of different topics, themes or subjects.  Amanda Spielman OFSTED’s Chief Inspector  started the debate, her concern, that the curriculum is narrowed to accommodate the need to teach to the test in Years 2 and 6 and in year 11 if not 10 as well is, in some cases, well founded.

Alongside this criticism is an acknowledgement that OFSTED may, in the past, have focused too much on the data and not enough on how that data is arrived at.  I have a long-held belief that focusing on passing tests and examinations at the expense of deepening learning over time is counter-productive.  Creating opportunities for pupils to access deep and rich text, apply numeracy skills to help to consolidate understanding of a problem or how to write to explain bias, cause and effect or express an opinion help to deepen their competence, strengthen their understanding and give them the resilience they need to see questions in a test or examination from different perspectives and give them a much better chance of coming up with the right level of response.

John West-Burnham in a research paper suggests that shallow learning is all about memorisation and leads to compliance and dependence and contributes very little in the pursuit of deep learning.  Read the whole paper here.Planning the curriculum should focus on what outcomes we want for pupils in terms of their knowledge and the skills that they need in order to access and apply that knowledge in a range of cross-curricular, thematic and subject contexts. Each school is different and that is why there is an imperative to focus on intent in relation to curriculum design that defines the right approach for individual school contexts.  Implementing that stated curriculum must focus on high quality pedagogy, teaching  that delivers inspirational learning and uses assessment strategies that lead to high levels of progression.  A positive impact is where all pupils have deepened their knowledge, are developing the core skills that will help them continue to make connections across all their learning and are mastering the wider cognitive skills that will ensure successful outcomes when they are tested or examined.

A good starting point is to have a detailed pro-forma scheme of work that everyone uses as part of planning in all departments, across all year groups and where appropriate for topic or sequential learning.  The headings should be built to ensure a consistency of purpose that mirrors the vision for deep knowledge and the development of the skills that will allow that vision to be realised.  These could include:-

  • What is the sequence of learning?
  • What do pupils know already to build on their knowledge and understanding?
  • What are the literacy skills that are intrinsic to the learning that are to be developed/further developed?
  • What are the numeracy skills that are intrinsic to the learning that can be developed/further developed?
  • What other learning skills will support the learning linked to deepening knowledge, fostering progression and demonstrating mastery?
  • What are the expected outcomes from this topic/series of lessons/theme?

The skills must be those that are naturally occurring as a part of learning. They do not need to be shoe-horned into the learning.  Also, pupils need to be a part of the process, continually re-enforcing their role in how they deepen their own learning, articulating what they need to do to make progress and improve their own work.

Whatever you do, don’t start from scratch.  In our last news-post we provided a tool called L.E.A.R.N. It starts with what will you leave in.  Always focus on what you do well before thinking about what needs to be changed.

Join us at one of our highly successful training days looking at how to re-define your curriculum, not for OFSTED but to reflect on how to make sure your curriculum is all about learning, highly effective pedagogy and the best outcomes for all pupils.

Read our news post that focuses on the skills/knowledge agenda

Focus on formative assessment to ensure the curriculum and how it is assessed is seen as a seamless process.

Curriculum Innovation – Seize the initiative and inspire outstanding learning and teaching

Outstanding pedagogy, inspiring curriculum content and a commitment to ensuring every learner achieves their full potential is what every leader in education wants to see happen on their watch.  So, let’s seize the initiative through carefully looking at what Amanda Spielman is saying and change the emphasis away from planning for results to planning for curriculum breadth and balance and creating a continuum of learning that deepens knowledge, builds skills and fosters creativity. The data, the positive results and the highly energised school staff and pupils will follow.

The political charge surrounding OFSTED’s foray into how the curriculum should be delivered is already in full swing.  Many commentators are having their say, some negative, some positive, most sceptical.  It is, in my opinion, the most welcome and pragmatic reflection on what needs to change in order for schools to win back the autonomy to use the talent they have to develop a curriculum that meets the needs of all their pupils.

Amanda Spielman talks about bringing back the ‘substance of education’.  I am sure all leaders of education including myself would agree that it never went away except in the fact that in order to keep our jobs and our sanity we have had to shape strategy towards data driven outcomes linked to SATs and GCSE results.  Free us from accountability regimes linked simply to one quality control measure at the end of primary and secondary schooling and the substance or whatever we would prefer to call it would blossom and grow like the pupils who receive that education.

This is an opportunity for all school leaders and their teams to review their curriculum and ask the questions:-

  • What are our intentions in relation to learning outcomes for all pupils?
  • How do we plan to ensure that all learners can build skills and access knowledge across all their learning?
  • How well do we build on prior learning to deepen knowledge and understanding?
  • How collaboratively do we build a cohesive and seamless curriculum that weaves the skills through the development of core and foundation or subject learning?
  • How can we measure impact and have the evidence of successful outcomes that are qualitative as well as quantitative?
  • How will we ensure all staff have the skills, knowledge and resources to build on what they already do well, embrace change and have the confidence to innovate?

The above is linked to what is deemed outstanding practice from national and international research.  It also echoes the current messages from OFSTED. What is being said so far makes sense.  Start the conversation and reflect on current and future curriculum intent, implementation and impact linked to the questions above and positive change will ensue regardless of what OFSTED or policy makers say.

Our training programmes focus on how you can achieve a cohesive, collaborative, skills focused and knowledge rich curriculum offer that will lead to successful outcomes for all learners. The two courses below are a starting point for all senior and middle leaders with responsibility for curriculum design.

Then put coaching at the heart of your CPD strategy and develop a culture of collaboration and structured learning conversations and watch positive change create outstanding futures. Have a look at our Coaching in Education courses.